As one of the seminal Flying Nun bands of the early '80s, the Verlaines helped sculpt the New Zealand indie pop sound associated with the label, weaving literary lyrics with wistful guitars and moody melodicism. Led by guitarist/songwriter Graeme Downes, the band has gone through a myriad of lineups over a decades-long existence, coming in and out of hiatus as Downes' focus has shifted on and off of his academic career. Untimely Meditations is the ninth studio album from the Verlaines, following 2007's Pot Boiler. The album gets off to a rough start with incredibly weak opening track "Born Again Idiot" sounding like a weekender bar band's bilious yet flaccid attempt at re-creating the angry energy of youth. Followed by the tedious "Dark Riff," things look bad for Untimely Meditations before the clouds clear with brilliant horns and sprightly guitar cycles on "Diamonds & Paracetamol," lifting the mood out of the grumpy rut the first few songs set the album up for. Things stay subtly brilliant from there on out, with baroque pop à la solo John Cale on "On the Patches" and echoes of the band's earlier gorgeous melancholy on tumultuous songs like "A Call from Decades Past" and "James, Jimmy, Nuisance, Hemi." Downes' lifelong fixation with poetry and philosophy are at the forefront of his sometimes obtuse, sometimes direct ruminations here. References to Nietzsche and Adorno pop up here and there, reaching an apex as the album closes with the ranting jam "Last Will & Testament" and the spoken word delivery of "What Sound Is This?" With a weak track sequence and a few confusing dips in creative vision, Untimely Meditations buries its golden moments deep in its core. Things only get ugly when Downes and company stray from the ambling introspective sound that's made the Verlaines great from their beginnings. The album's somewhat disjointed feel comes from its consistent emotional tug of war. Downes' songs struggle to find the balance between spite and longing, but never quite reconcile between the two.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas